High-tech tax time

April 07, 1997

by Maryland State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein

It's been said that taxation is the art of plucking a goose to get the largest amount of feathers with the least amount of squawking. But today, tax collectors across America face an added challenge: keeping enough employees in the face of relentless government downsizing to get the job done while using technology to maintain and expand services and provide them more efficiently.

While high-tech ways to process tax returns, track accounts, generate refunds and send bills are staples in the arsenal of most revenue agencies, Maryland led the way with its pioneering tax return imaging system and consolidated revenue administration computer system.

But what about services that impact taxpayers directly - services they need and use - like getting a tax form or a tax question answered? If you build a high-tech taxpayer service system, will taxpayers use it? Will people accustomed to face-to-face service squawk about high-tech solutions to the problem of doing more with less?


Across the nation, state revenue agencies are offering taxpayers a wide variety of high-tech ways to deal with their tax filing obligations, including interactive telephone systems, fax-on-demand, the Internet, and electronic filing.

Here in Maryland, taxpayers have taken to the new options like tourists take to Maryland crab cakes. Taxpayers downloaded nearly 15,000 tax forms and booklets from our web site through the first two months of the income tax filing season, a pace that's bound to pick up as April 15 draws closer.

After they get the forms, they're using e-mail to ask questions, with half of our correspondence coming over the information highway. And we're the first state in the nation to let you use the Internet to apply for an extension of time to file your return.

In the same period, our interactive 24 hour Forms-by-Fax system sent more than 39,000 pages of forms and publications to almost 7,000 callers.

So far during the income tax filing season, almost as many Maryland returns have been filed electronically through professional tax preparers as were filed electronically all of last year. Almost 20 percent of all returns are currently being electronically filed, up 35 percent over the same period last year.

The results? Fewer phones to answer, less costly paper processing, lower postage costs.

Have taxpayers taken advantage of technology? The answer is a resounding "yes!"

Thanks to technology, we're processing a million more tax returns than we did 20 years ago, and with fewer employees. We've reduced our payroll by 217 employees since 1991. The three and a half million pieces of paper we've eliminated from our work flow through technology would stretch more than 600 miles laid end to end, or from Baltimore almost to Chicago.

Cutting back on paper, cutting back on staff, increasing service with an electronic office that never closes. You can't squawk about that.

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